You’ve probably never heard of lime-ash flooring, but if you’ve ever been to Hardwick Hall you will definitely have walked on it. In this blog we take a look at this type of flooring, once employed fairly extensively, using 24 and 24a High Street (formerly known as The Farm) as an example.
Lime ash flooring and its use
As the name suggests lime ash floors were made with lime and a mixture of sand or loam, broken brick and brick dust, but other materials might be used – even cow dung.
Used from the 15th to the 19th century, its clever composition was ideal for first floors and above. The lime ash floor was relatively lightweight and was flexible enough to not display too much cracking.
The material would be mixed on site. The underside of the floor to be treated was usually laid with harvested reeds across the joists. The lime ash mixture would then be spread on top of the reeds, with the top surface usually finished smooth. To give the surface a polished water repellent finish, egg white or curdled milk would be trowelled into the surface. If you have been to Hardwick Hall, you may well have mistaken the lime ash floors there for concrete.
Lime ash floors in Brimington
Like many communities Brimington will have buildings with lime ash floors. One definite example is the grade II listed building 24 and 24a High Street. In 1994, when this was being refurbished, removal of the ceiling in some areas revealed the reeds, still with their seed heads intact. On top was the traditional lime ash mix. This property is dated 1763, so those reeds were probably harvested in that year and remained, presumably untouched, until seen again in the 1990s.
For the period, this house is slightly unusual in Brimington in that it is built of brick – most properties of this type were built of stone. The lime ash flooring mix probably contains brick dust and broken pieces of brick from the building’s construction.
We believe that the lime ash floors in The Farm, after some repair, survive. But the ceilings under the reeds had plaster board applied and they are now hidden once more. If they have survived, how long will it be before they see the light of day again?
There are undoubtedly lime ash floors elsewhere in the village (and probably in Tapton). Vernon Brelsford tells the story (in his 1937 ‘History of Brimington…’ p. 35) of the ‘Tithe House’— the white painted building next to the Post Office on High Street; ‘A few years ago, the owner, Mr JT Holmes carried out some extensive repairs and alterations to the house, during which one of the two floors upstairs was found to be of highly polished concrete’. This is probably lime ash flooring not concrete.
We’d be interested to hear from owners who think their property has lime ash flooring and also to those who remember The Farm.
We’ll be looking in more detail at The Farm’s history in a future blog.
For further information on lime ash flooring see the South West Bulletin of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (number 24, May 2014).